A few years ago, in a far-flung little town in Washington state, a family was going through the belongings of their recently deceased mother.
In the bottom of a long-forgotten trunk far up in the attic, they came across a shoebox.
Inside of that shoebox were the only accommodations left on Earth that recalled the distinguished service of an Everett man killed during World War II – the man being Technical Sgt. Everett Lawrence MacDonald, who is buried in Everett’s Glenwood Cemetery.
No one at that time – though – knew anything about the medals or why their mother had them.
She never spoke about them.
She never once mentioned them.
So, imagine the shock when the family learned that the medals belonged to their mother’s other husband – a husband they had never known about and whose death was so painful that their mother could never bring herself to talk about it, even years later.
The medals lingered in the family’s possession for some time, until recently when – at a family reunion – son Walter Reitz decided to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The answer to that mystery – and the return of the long-lost medals – came a few weeks ago in a moving ceremony to mark the return of a Purple Heart medal to the family of Technical Sgt. MacDonald, a young man who grew up on Vine Street but never returned home from war.
MacDonald was killed in action in September 13, 1944, shot down over Auschwitz, Poland while on his 50th and final bombing mission during World War II. He had served as a communications specialist in a B-24 bomber with the Hell’s Angels group. Posthumously, he received a Purple Heart medal – amongst others – for his service. That medal was lost to his family members – specifically Everett natives Clide and Gerry MacDonald, his nephews. With the help of family members and Army Capt. Zachariah Fike of Purple Hearts Reunited, the uncle they lost came home in some fashion.
“I can’t say in words just how wonderful this is, what has happened here today,” said Clide MacDonald – now of South Carolina, after receiving the nicely framed medals and a photo of his uncle’s bomber unit. “Coming back home during the Vietnam era, we didn’t get much of a welcome and no one honored us. It’s nice to see that American is finally getting around to honoring its veterans.”
Added Mayor Carlo DeMaria – who spoke along with Veterans Agent Joe Hickey, “This is one of those good stories. Everett MacDonald was an Everett resident, born and raised on Vine Street. He left his community to serve in combat during World War II and he never came home…Today, we’re bringing his medals home to his family.”
Elena MacDonald y Quinones de Ubinas, Clide’s daughter, said the Reitz family had eventually contacted Capt. Fike’s organization, and through his networks, Fike was able to locate Elena – who was actually hot on the trail as well via some genealogical research of her own.
She said her father recently had charged her with finding out about his long-lost uncle, Everett MacDonald, and specifically about a mysterious woman who had been at Everett’s funeral with a baby. None of the MacDonald family knew her and none of them ever saw her again.
“My father remembered there was a woman who was at the funeral and the grave site with a baby,” said Elena. “The woman was crying and said she was Everett’s wife. She left from the grave with the baby and they never saw her again. That happened a lot in World War II. It sounds odd now, but that happened to a lot of women.
“They tended to move on and to get re-married and start brand new lives,” continued Elena. “That’s what happened here and she kept the medals to remember him. The baby had, unfortunately, died at some point and so the medals were all she had to remember that painful part of her life. It was a painful era.”
According to Fike, the woman had re-married and moved to Washington state. Her children, who had come from a previous marriage before the war, were always curious about the mysterious grave next to their father in the family plot – a grave that belonged to the deceased child that had been Everett’s. It’s only now, Fike said, that the family has come to realize the grave belongs to their half-brother.
Fike also relayed an amazing story about how the Polish citizens during World War II found the crashed bomber that Everett died on and buried the bodies and placed flowers on the graves. Despite intense pressure by the German Army to stop decorating the graves, the Polish citizens of the village, which was Auschwitz, continued to defy that order – and still to this day they hold a ceremony to decorate the area with flowers.
“The Germans would get in their face and threaten them when they would place flowers on the site,” Fike told the crowd. “Undeterred by the threats, they continued placing flowers on the graves and they’ve been doing it for 60 years. Every September, they gather and pay homage to these men who died, including Everett MacDonald.”
He said he started his organization after receiving a Purple Heart medal for Christmas – a medal he did not earn, but that his mother bought for him in a store. As he held it, he knew that he had to find its rightful owner.
“It was the big present of the night on Christmas,” Fike said. “It was a great present, but I knew one thing; it didn’t belong to me. So, I tracked down the rightful owner and returned it to his family.”
Two years ago, while serving in the Vermont National Guard, Fike started his Purple Hearts Reunited foundation. Since that time, Fike purchases or receives lost or stolen Purple Heart medals and locates the closest family member so that he can return the medal to them. If no living relative can be located or the medal is not wanted, he donates it to an acceptable repository – such as a museum.
Technical Sgt. Everett MacDonald was born on Dec. 19, 1913, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.